The Fort Frances 15U Vipers girls' volleyball team continues to impress while participating in the Manitoba Volleyball Association.
Comprised of athletes from around the region, including seven from Fort Frances, two from Kenora, four from Atikokan, and one from Rainy River, the squad started practising after the NorWOSSA season had wrapped up.
Their most recent action came this past weekend, when the Vipers opened round-robin play with a straight-sets loss (25-15/25-17).
“The issue, besides the strong play by their opponent, was they were not physically prepared to play,” Vipers' head coach Bob Kowal conceded.
“The girls were basically cold when they played the set as they didn't take the time to warm their bodies,” he noted.
“It is a good lesson to learn before the provincials as the teams will be fired up and ready to play.”
But the squad regrouped, winning five out the six sets to finish second in their pool.
The Vipers then played a strong and well-coached Vision Thunder team in the quarter-finals and persevered by scores of 25-21/25-19.
It was there when things started to get interesting for them.
The squad played another Vision team and lost the first set by a score of 25-17.
“It appeared the girls were being outworked [but] they picked up the intensity and won the next two sets by scores of 25-22 and 15-9 in the final third set,” said Kowal.
“We've played these teams before and have had success in the past, however, they didn't know what to expect from us when we first played,” he noted.
"But there are no surprises and they were ready mentally and physically to play.
“We need to remember this as we go forward,” Kowal stressed.
Then in the final, it was more of the same in the first set, with Dynamo Red winning by a score of 25-12.
“We played our bench during this match for two reasons,” said Kowal.
“We wanted the girls to have the experience of playing in a championship game but just as important, it allowed the others to catch their breath as they just played two intense back-to-back playoff games,” he noted.
“The girls did play well, for a time, and the score at one point was 12-9 but they couldn't sustain the consistency needed in these games.”
Still, the Vipers battled back from an early deficit and went on to win the second set 25-23.
“The Dynamo Red fans and the Vipers' fans were completely engaged in the contest,” Kowal recalled.
“You could hardly hear the whistle to serve when the fans from the Reds started to clap and stomp their feet.”
“It made for a great playing environment,” echoed Grace Kowal.
But the Vipers maintained their intensity and it showed on the court, with celebrations after each point becoming a little more emphatic.
That seemed to rattle the Dynamo team and the Vipers claimed the third-and-deciding set by a score of 15-9, with Keisha Debungie hammering home the final point with a thunderous attack from the middle.
“It was a gratifying win for the [squad] as the bench rushed the team still holding hands after the final point,” noted Kowal.
Aurora Hutton was named player of the game.
The Vipers' first tournament of the season came back on March 2-3 in Brandon, Man.
The squad finished third in pool play but could not find the consistency necessary to be successful in the playoffs.
“They ended up finishing within the top 12, [which is] a good result for their first tournament,” said Kowal.
The next tournament also was held in Brandon on March 23-24.
The Vipers went on an amazing run which culminated in a semi-final loss to the eventual champion Club West Rage.
It was not an easy path for the team as they defeated three top-10 ranked teams in the process, and were gassed by the time they played a very tall, athletic Club West Rage team.
“Our margins for winning some of those games was very small, and it could have went either way for any of the top teams we played,” Kowal said.
“With that being said, our girls found a way to win each one of those close matches, and we demonstrated a lot of grit and resiliency in doing so,” he lauded.
Just two weeks later, the Vipers enjoyed more success playing in the University of Manitoba Bisons Invitational tournament.
They advanced to the quarter-finals before falling to a very good Wesmen team.
They had their chances but could not take advantage of opportunities presented to them in the first set.
The Wesmen then settled into their game and really shut the door after the first set.
“Our girls were satisfied with the result as we played great volleyball,” Kowal enthused.
"The other team played flawlessly and never gave us an opportunity to make any sort of run during the game.
“I guess that is why they are ranked in the top three in the province,” he reasoned.
Up next, the Vipers will head to Atikokan this Saturday to compete in a couple of exhibition matches with the Superior North Volleyball Club from Thunder Bay and the Atikokan senior girls' volleyball team.
The provincials in Winnipeg will follow on April 28-29.